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THEATER REVIEWS

'Hello and Goodbye' a Dour Bit of Drama

June 21, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES

The often brutal cost of survival amid the harshest social and psychological terrain is a familiar theme in South African playwright Athol Fugard's work. It even figures prominently in his early and rarely performed 1963 drama "Hello and Goodbye," unearthed by the fledgling Histrionagers Company at Theatre/Theater.

But other signatures of Fugard's mature work--like subtlety and some entree for human sympathy--are conspicuously absent from this dour two-character study of South African white-trash siblings reunited after 15 years.

When prostitute Hester Smit (Alissa Gorgen) returns to her seedy, cramped family home, it isn't out of nostalgia or concern for her deteriorating father, a former railroad worker crippled in an explosion. Rather, it's to enlist her reclusive, high-strung brother (William Cunningham) in helping her abscond with half the accident settlement she feels is her rightful inheritance.

Despite a tendency for their clipped Afrikaaner accents to lapse into something more akin to Cockney, the performers bring admirable intensity and focus to their roles as they paw through boxes of tacky possessions in search of money. Gorgen is an icy tomb of repressed feeling, smoldering at their secondhand lives that got used up, while Cunningham's introvert oozes overtones of Norman Bates as he flails in harrowing stream-of-consciousness monologues. Elisa Llamido's brisk staging keeps wallowing to a minimum and illuminates the rare glimmers of compassion.

But even their best efforts can't overcome the story's hyperbolic excesses and predictable final revelation. Fugard just doesn't give us much to care about in these tawdry and ultimately wearisome specimens.

* "Hello and Goodbye," Theatre/Theater, 1713 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 30. $10. (213) 466-1767, (818) 953-9993. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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